First lady Michelle Obama opposes a proposal advanced by House Republicans that would exempt some school districts from following federal mandated nutrition guidelines passed in 2010.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 which the first lady championed during its legislative path through Congress, calls for a reduction in sodium, fat, calories, and sugar, but requires an increase in whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables in school lunches. The legislation allowed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reform school lunch and breakfast program guidance with choices aimed at improving critical nutrition levels and creating a hunger safety net for children.

While House Republicans claim the proposal would be a one-year waiver for schools that are having financial trouble meeting the new food standards, the first lady described the notion as “unacceptable” and accused Republicans of legislative moves that threaten the health of school children nationwide.

She told a group of school nutrition experts last week “the last thing we can afford to do is play politics with our kids health,” according to the Connecticut Mirror, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news outlet.

A fact sheet released by the USDA cited a recent Harvard study that kids are now eating 16 percent more vegetables and 23 percent more fruit at lunch. According to the results, more than 90 percent of schools reported to have successfully met the updated nutrition standard.

The USDA analysis also suggested that in the first year of implementing the updated meal guidelines, schools saw a net nationwide increase of approximately $200 million in revenue from school lunches.

Some school districts and organizations, however, have argued that some schools are losing money because students do not like the healthier food option and refuse to pay for the school programs, citing expense.

One organization in particular that has also echoed this argument and is in favor of the temporary waivers is the School Nutrition Association, which represents providers of school breakfasts and lunches. The organization, which was once an advocate for the lunch meal standards, released a statement applauding the House Appropriations Committee for preserving the language in the Fiscal Year 2015 Agriculture Appropriation Bill.

But Alexander Moore, director of development and communication for D.C. Central Kitchen, said recently that kids are not being forced into choosing healthy meal options in schools. The nonprofit organization’s Healthy School Food program provides meals for low-income children in Wards 5, 7, and 8.

The organization’s school program has “proven that you can serve healthy meals to kids and proven that kids can eat these meals,” Moore said.

D.C. Central Kitchen is partnering with D.C. Public Schools and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education in the District.

“There is a future in healthy food and it’s our responsibility to teach them healthy lifestyles. The community has to be involved in more of the debate we are having on this issue, including parents,” noted Moore concerning the school meal standards that has spiraled into a political debacle.

But even though House Republicans voted to change the guidelines of the school lunches, the proposed amendment still has to go through the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Maria Adebola

Special to the AFRO